Dr. Hoffer's Autobiography
A Summary of His Life & Work (pdf)
Dr. Hoffer's Books
Dr. Hoffer's Research Papers
A Poetic Limerick from Dr. Hugh Riordan
The Orthomolecular Vitamin Information Centre

WHO IS ABRAM HOFFER
1917-2009

By Abram Hoffer

I have lived a full, interesting and creative life supported by my family and many friends and irritated and spurred on by the hostile criticisms of a group of psychiatrists representing APA and NIMH. Since they did not know me personally I never took it personally although I must admit I would have preferred had they been supportive. I give my critics full credit for having delayed the full introduction of orthomolecular medicine into the medical world and for having denied life, health and happiness for innumerable patients. Supporters of old paradigms never realize how much damage they do by their remarkable rigidity and adherence to old theories.

I was born on a farm in Southern Saskatchewan in 1917, completed High School in a rural school, my PhD at University of Minnesota and Medical degree at University of Toronto. By the time I got my first job I was 33 years old, had three children and was totally fed up with being a student. The last thing in the world I wanted to do was to become a psychiatrist, then the lowest branch of medicine. My wife Rose put up with these long student years while she brought up our three children. Bill became one of the world’s best antiquarian book experts. He died 6 years ago from lung cancer. John is a Professor of Medicine at McGill University in Montreal a great clinician and researcher into nutrition, and Miriam is dietitian at Women College hospital in Toronto and recently published her very good book Fueling Body, Mind and Spirit. Rose died in August 2001 and since then I am alone but absorbed with my family and my work. I have the support of remarkable friends and scientists and all of us working together will eventually overhaul medicine back to its interest in nutrition and in nutrients.

My work with schizophrenia and later in developing orthomolecular psychiatry depends on a series of events that possibly cannot ever occur again. I began to work for the Government of Saskatchewan in July 1, 1950, to organize a research division in psychiatry. The government was very hopeful that this would help them bring our mental hospital into the twentieth century. Our two mental hospitals were classed in 1954 as among the three worst in the world by Dr. John Weir, Medical Director of the Rockefeller Foundation. My chief was very supportive because he trusted and liked me even though he did not understand much about what we were doing. Dr. Humphry Osmond joined us from England. He was a refugee from the stiff conservative research intellectual attitude of academic psychiatry in England. He and John Smythies had formulated their M hypothesis of schizophrenia which was that it was possible that in the body of these patients there was a chemical with the psychological properties of mescaline and somehow related to adrenaline. Osmond brought this idea to us in Saskatchewan in the fall of 1951, and to me it made a tremendous amount of good sense. It gave us a map to follow in pursuit to the elusive schizophrenic toxin. I was Director of Psychiatric Research and was given full control. I knew no psychiatry, which was a major stroke of luck because I did not know that what we were trying to do was impossible. We had no medical school, another stroke of luck because we had no one who could countermand the direction I wanted to follow. Our team developed the adrenochrome hypothesis, which stated that adrenalin was oxidized to adrenochrome and this caused the disease. It was the first super oxidation hypothesis in medicine and it called for certain biochemical tricks to reverse this oxidation. We developed our research program with the help of the Rockefeller Foundation and showed that adrenochrome is an hallucinogen and showed how it could be made and studied. Later it was found in the body and is today receiving serious consideration as an element in many degenerative diseases of the brain. But we also wanted to treat our patients more effectively. All we had was ECT.

We deduced from our biochemical theories that large doses of vitamin B-3 and vitamin C might be therapeutic. We obtained a large supply of pure crystalline niacin, niacinamide, ascorbic acid and riboflavin. Our first patient Ken was a catatonic schizophrenic in the mental hospital run by Dr Osmond. He had had insulin coma and also ECT and had been left in a coma and was dying. We decided that he must be our first patient to be given niacin and hoped he would not be our first victim. We used a stomach tube and gave him a large dose of niacin and ascorbic acid. He survived. The next day he sat up and drank it and thirty days later he was well. He was discharged and remained well. We were very fortunate. It is essential that the first patient one treats with any new treatment responds and he did. We then knew that we had something but our conviction was not great. After six double blinds, thousands of patients I have treated since then, and dozens of open clinical studies, I am convinced that what I saw in 1952 did represent a new way of treating these patients. The question is why do we need double blinds, which never initiate anything and merely consume tons of money and time and do very little to further progress in medicine. Under my direction, we did the first double blinds in psychiatry and I felt perfectly justified in also being one of the first to criticize this method.

The adrenochrome hypothesis has been a map that we have followed since then and it has been remarkably effective in directing our investigations in to fruitful areas of research. These include the discovery of the mauve factor, psychedelic therapy, special clinical tests for schizophrenia such as the HOD and EWI test, the discovery that niacin lowers cholesterol levels, better housing for patients, better and more humane treatment of patients and more. Our research, and the use of mega doses of vitamins led to Linus Pauling's formulation of Orthomolecular Psychiatry and Medicine. And I now know a lot more psychiatry than I did when I first started so many years ago.


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